There was a time when fashion and beauty were the poor cousins of the advertising world. Magazines like Vogue soaked up hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spend from high end fashion labels like Chanel and Valentino and second tier houses would vie to sit close-by. It was a closed-loop and, other than the odd wonderfully odd Harvey Nichols ad - you wouldn't ever see them represented in advertising award shows.
The editors of fashion magazines had a potent influence over what would be featured in their pages - offering editorial and curatorial credibility to trends and styles; making and breaking the careers of designers. Campaigns could be fanciful and elegiac - models balefully posed like starved prisoners or bizarre and boisterous.
Spreads might contain a fashion-story but, rarely, any kind of cogent narrative. No logic or pesky persuasion (mostly because fashion defies logic).
There was - and is - a code. Those in the know, the cognoscenti, understand and the fashionistas simply went along for the ride; enjoying the fact that they didn't have a clue what was going on, but unwilling to confess it (ironically - a variation of the emperor's new clothes syndrome).
As an adman from way back I've always been bemused by fashion. I love its bonkers 'otherness'. I find documentaries like The September Issue fascinating anthroplogies to the unapologetic world where crafts and commerce collide.
I like the risks that designers have to take in the endlessly inflating world of haute couture - since seeing a museum show of Viktor & Rolfe in Melbourne a while back I have an even higher regard for the high-wire that is high fashion.
Like every industry, fashion (and luxury goods generally) have been disrupted by the internet. The massive premium charged by leading fashion magazines could finally be offset by building owned media assets like websites in the early days for the digital shift - then audiences could be grown directly via social media. (Of course major media brands and their editorial caché remain important, but their power and influence has been diluted).
So, it interests me to see that the Cannes advertising festival is to offer a major showcase to the world of fashion - read the DIgiDay report here. The organisers, quite correctly note the rise in innovation in the fashion sector and the descent of 'conventional' advertising tropes.
In a sense the Cannes festival is a canary in the mineshaft. On one hand the organisers sniff an opportunity to flatter a new category of entrants to compete for awards - and a new wave of conference attendees, willing to descend on the seaside town to hob nob and posture (I think the fashion world will feel right at home).
On the other hand, one significant aspect of the fashion world's modus operandi is to question the value of logical narrative in promotion.
In the Insta era - does it matter if there is a 'reason' to pay attention other than being amusing or different or simply beautiful? - an existential form of communication?
It is because - well, …it just is.
Chanel - Objectifying while implying a liberated spirit?
D&G - covering the bases (diversity) and making a hash of it (#Intsa integration)
ZARA - seasonal fashion story - though that's not the real story… influencers and ambassadors are where it really happens…
Let's imagine a scenario: We are in the office of an ice-cream maker. The ad agency suit is being instructed on planning the upcoming activity.
"What's special about the ice cream?"
"Um, not much - it's sweet and cold. It's errr…Ice cream. People know what ice cream is and they love it."
"Ok,…who is going to buy it?"
"Anyone with a mouth."
"Fair enough"…makes note…"Any…one…with…a mouth. Budget?, Any thoughts on budget?"
"Quite a bit. But I don't want to waste it in TV. Give me something viral."
"Viral?…" makes note "Vi…ral…"
"When can you get back to us?"
"I'll just have to make a quick call to our creative director…"
Skype opening noise
"André, …I'm just with Heath from Halo, discussing the campaign plan"
"Terrific…g'day Heath mate…
"So, quick question? have you still got that script with the 2001, Kubrick, HAL, dystopian schtick in your bottom drawer?"
"Of course, one of these days - I guarantee some mug will buy it…then clear your mantlepiece! Cannes here we come."
"Heath here mate…Cannes, you reckon?"
"Solid gold, mate…"
"Pull the trigger. Call me when it's done."
There was an ad, screened in the some time ago in New Zealand that captured the idea of this conversation in a succinct and salient way. It showed a man walking away from a beach. As he ranged further from the tide his attire changed in its significance.
As the context changed, so did the meaning of his swimwear.
When close to the tide his Speedos were 'togs'.
When further away and amongst the world they were …'undies'.
A man in bikini pants on the beach was ok. On the street?…Not so much.
Context was everything.
In the context of the ad insight into linguistics were also important: Tog versus Undies. Same scant attire. Fully clothed semiotics.
Here's the ad:
I was in a planning session with a client recently, discussing health care advertising.
An ad occurred to me to illustrate a point.
This is it:
In our meeting one of my clients expressed a point view about the ad - which I had showed out of context - that it might have been better without the orchestra/crooner motif - 'just show the facts.'
It's easy to express a judgement about the C4 Olympics ads based on a superficial aspect of the execution. Sure the crooner/big band element might have confused some people or seemed unnecessary. But context matters.
The London Olympics were a massive spectacle. The event captured the attention and imagination of the world. Traditionally the paralymics follow the main event. Imagine that…saturated with sport and populism, the viewing audience would have been ready for a cigarette and lights out.
By Introducing the motif of the big band etc…performed, …if you will indulge me the smallest of puns, the dual roles of both attention getting device PARP!…and introduce an element of surprise.
After weeks and months of Olympian, homo-erotic, Leni Riefenstahl* moments where big brands and broadcasters would have tugged at the obvious heart-strings of pride and projected glory… out roll the gimps*.
Do we have your attention now?
On the 'stage' of the musical presentation C4 seized the opportunity to create a set-piece that showcased the talents of the disabled athletes that might make viewers lean forward to experience something like joy and exhilaration, …to wonder what will come next and to marvel at accomplishment that would be marvellous in able-bodied people.
The trailer brought otherness to centre-stage and showed us grim things without making us want to look away ('eww - stumps!').
It made us not think - 'Oh look, Love, they're just like us…had me another Gingernut, mine seems to have sunk into the cup…" but that the Athletes are in fact Superhuman. In the Marvel comics influenced world we do like to marvel at the oddball outsiders with magical powers - often inflicted on them by birth or accident and incident.
Advertising is a famously bitchy business - Broadway meets Rue Paul's Drag Strip show. On trade websites like StopPress here in New Zealand anonymous comments are permitted. The consequence is a limited, cheap-shot environment. It's as tempting to dismissively criticise the work of others too quickly through schadenfruende or confirmation bias as it is to be excited by an ad's superficial execution - without considering whether of not it had any effect with its intended audience (and, no, a Cannes jury is not a valid target audience).
If you work in a category, say pet food or healthcare it would make sense to look carefully at the advertising of competitors. Let's assume their market is your customers and their intention is to increase their market share at your expense. To achieve that goal you would assume:
a) They have some experience to match your own and have access to historical data and an understanding of future trends.
b) They may have spend a considerable amount of money on research in order to find compelling, competitive ways to persuade your customers to choose their brand
c) their advertising agency may have assigned a strategic planner to synthesise all of the above in to the message you see on the screen - there may be an insight at the heart of the execution that is not obvious on viewing (the best ads do have insights into consumer behaviour and don't always wear them on their sleeve).
You can benefit from that investment with an open mind and critical analysis, rather than viewing superficially or reflexively. Of course the objective is not to emulate competitors but to understand consumers and add insight into your own strategy - from which you can outfox your competition.
*Disparaging term - used to make an ironic dramatic point, I'm sorry for any offence, not intended.
I have more than a passing interest in architecture. It fascinates me to an extent that is almost diametrically opposed to my views of vernacular architecture in my home country, New Zealand and its population's obsession with home ownership at any and all cost. I am predisposed, biased is probably the proper term to modernism though I think my pervasive disposition is towards humanism in most aesthetic endeavours. Though architecture lives somewhere between aesthetics and functionality in the way Corbusier described houses as 'machines for living'. I tried to commission the design of a home once - to be built at Piha overlooking the beach that was my wife's favourite place. The very well known architect I thought would be our man visited us. For nearly three hours he and I discussed existentialism and classicism in a sweeping arc, not even fuelled by alcohol. We doodled together, shaping the promise of a place with huge living areas - most of them outside because of constraints on the percentage of a site the built structure could occupy. Preliminary drawings were made and paid for but the home was never started. I learned first hand how much fun the process of designing a home could be - and also how important it is to have a rapport with your architect.
I wonder if I would have had a better rapport with either Johnson or Wright? I suspect my admiration would lean towards Wright - he was a genius of the highest order, inventing and imaging new forms for living that referred powerfully to their place in the American landscape. As a mid-westerner through and through his emphasis was on the horizontal, mirroring the great horizons of the plains. He learned his craft as an engineer and a draughtsman in the offices of Louis Sullivan, the father of the Skyscraper who made Chicago the thrusting (literally) capital of the efficient use of vertical space on a small footprint. Wright had a long career - spanning two centuries. As an architecture critic, before becoming an architect himself, Philip Johnson pigeon-holed Wright as the greatest architect of the 19th Century - a jibe that sets in place the foundation of the thesis in this book which contrives to make more of the pair's interaction and relationship than probably truly existed. They are are study in overlapping comparison, rather than lives in close proximity suggested by the title (a reference to Neil SImons' hit play/film/TV show The Odd Couple where neat, uptight Felix Ungar and the slovenly, easygoing Oscar Madison are forced to cohabit by circumstance).
Despite the motif drawing a long bow I found the book easily readable and its material satisfyingly interesting. The depiction of Wright's delivery of the initial drawings for Falling Water make the events gripping and astonishing. I enjoy reading about the ways of creative people. Wright's were idiosyncratic, to say the least. Of course the dwelling he created - for all its flaws in execution - it is 'a 12 bucket house', apparently. A description of the number of vessels required to catch the leaking rainwater from its flat roof design and construction. The Guggenheim museum is also a remarkable tribute to a man who was 90 when ground first broke next to Central Park in Manhattan - a place Wright generally speaking found medieval compare to freedom and space of the mid-west. He died before the museum was complete.
Johnson's trajectory is detailed in the book but it doesn't really end with a satisfying conclusion. He was never Wright's architectural equal - despite his importance in bringing modernism to theUnited States from Europe - mostly via his association with Mies van der Rohe, whom Johnson greatly admired after visiting the Czech home Mies had built, applying the principles of 'less is more' and brutal functionality that would culminate in a collaboration on the Seagram Building in New York city.
The story of the Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut is detailed but in a less visceral way than Wright's escapades - possibly a reflection of the subject matter. I admire The Glass House and have visited it. But compared to the Solomon R Guggenheim museum it is very much chalk to Wright's cheese.
Aside from the over-promise of the premise, student's of architecture and the artistic history of the 20th Century will enjoy this book. I don't think it will shed much new light on the subject materiel for academic audiences or design nerds.
As a footnote I wanted to know more about the Baroness Hilla von Rebay who persuaded Guggenheim to create a museum of 'non-objective art' and who hired Frank Lloyd Wright as its architect. She was the museum's first director but was ousted in a coup on the death of Solomon Guggenheim.
Architecture's Odd Couple
Buy from Fishpond
Call me nerdy, if you will, but I still use those things with a spine, cover and pages that are usually printed on paper. It all seems a little recherché but some people like vinyl records and I like to learn.
There have been lots of changes since my last post here on Busker. The most important of which is that I closed my business MacGregor Media Limited and went to work with a form specialising in books and learning/education products. That gig is over now and I have resumed working with BrandWorld on special projects - as well as creative projects that are experiments in creativity.
So the web address is just one of convenience - but media and content (mostly commercial or in the context of commercialising) are still my focus - so that's how I'll use the site to make sense of things.
I thought it might be useful to review some of the books I read from time to time and see if I can join some dots in an interesting way to share with you. It will be a bibliography of sorts and, if nobody else reads them, they will be like diary notes or a breadcrumb trail of time spent with my nose in books.
Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our World
Architecture's Odd Couple
Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson
READ MY REVIEW
Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair – A Natural History
The healthcare market is worth trillions and it's changing. new entrants are seeing opportunities to exploit emerging technology, emerging markets and changing demographics. Read more…
Have you ever had someone ask to meet for a coffee so they can 'pick your brains'?. Changes in the way we connect and work has made informal business conversations more common. It can be a good thing but if you consult professionally for a living beware people who freeload your expertise for the price of a flat white…read more
What's your experience? Leave a comment.
Everybody loves a parade. Nobody has ever conceived a parade quite like Jean Paul Goude. Of all Mitterand's vanity projects this one is nonpareil - non?
Happy Bastille Day (though that is a bit like wishing an American happy signing of the treaty of independence day) - especially to my friends and clients Frogs.
You don't know who Jean Paul Goude is? Say it isn't so…
You've heard the analogy of a brand as a persona. I used to ask clients if their brand was a person what kind of music would it listen to. It was an apparently frivolous question, on the face of it any way. Marketers in tune with their brand's identity would have little difficulty in articulating the mixtape of their offspring's life - mainly because it was their customer's soundtrack too - one client described a character I would have enjoyed hanging out with, probably in a dingy late night roadhouse bar, listening to Chicago blues, drinking beer and bourbon to chase it. That's the convention. So it follows you would articulate your BrandStory down to the nth degree. When you brief your ad agency or graphic designer you will introduce them the character that has form and substance. It may even have history and heritage.
But what happens when your designer has a brand of their own? You are attracted to the work they have done for other clients. There's a thread to it. It's recognisably theirs. Can the two persona co-exist? Can two egos occupy the same space? Must one sublimate to the other?
Apple announced their Apple music service at the recent developers conference. This 'teaser' ad seems to make a triangle of connections - Music, Life Moments, Apple. Omnipresence in your life via the devices ti has been working to plant seems to be the strategy. While the iPod gave you easy, reliable mobility with 'a thousand songs in your pocket', the shift is now that all of your devices can reach you everywhere and, because you are tethered to the internet you can now be bound to Apple. Instead of being a self sustained pod that you loaded with supplies you will be harness to the mothership - it will feed you the music through the umbilical of Apple Music/Beats Radio.
The difference now is that the device isn't a mute player it. Apple can whisper in your ear via DJs and advertising messages. That, strategically, is a big shift. Do consumers trade autonomy for a cost (buying your own music and programming it yourself)? Or do they accept the tradeoff of free music to be a soundtrack to their lives - though with a word or two from the sponsor?
At a time when the advertising industry is discussing the impact of ad-blocking software Apple have quickstepped the problem by creating a vertically integrated platform that offers the ubiquity of music (you don't have to focus on a screen) to get the jump on Facebook in an arena where there are only three serious contenders - Apple, Facebook and Google.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.